Senate takes up articles of Impeachment. TRANSCRIPT: 1/16/20, Hardball w/ Chris Matthews.
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Chris Matthews starts now.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: Can the Trump defenders handle the truth? Let’s
Good evening. I’m Chris Matthews in Washington.
Today marked a solemn beginning to the Senate’s impeachment trial of
President Donald Trump. For the first time or just the third time actually
in American history, the members of that historic body lifted their right
hands as the chief justice of the Supreme Court swore them to be impartial.
Yet, amid the pomp and circumstance the day showcased a real tension
between form and function. We saw the form today, but the function of a
trial is to get to the truth. And that prospect is in question tonight.
With the new revelations from Lev Parnas, it’s becoming harder for the
Senate to ignore the new rush of evidence against the president. That’s
because as Rudy Giuliani’s right-hand man, Parnas was central to the crime
itself, not an incidental bystander.
And as Parnas confirmed to Rachel Maddow last night, all their efforts were
aimed at Joe Biden.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEV PARNAS, INDICTED GIULIANI ASSOCIATE: It was all about Joe Biden, Hunter
Biden and also Rudy had a personal thing with the Manafort stuff, the black
ledger. That was another thing that they were looking into. But it was
never about corruption, it was never, it was strictly about Burisma, which
included Hunter Biden and Joe Biden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, it should be noted that Parnas still faces serious criminal
charges and was arrested while trying to leave the country.
And while his allegations might still be corroborated, the trove of
documents he’s provided to Congress is harder to dispute. Among those
papers, Giuliani’s letter to Zelensky contradicts the defense that Trump’s
quest for dirt in Ukraine was part of the U.S. effort to root out
corruption. As Giuliani said, just to be precise, I represent him as a
private citizen, that him being the president, not as the president of the
Most explosive is that Parnas says he personally relayed an ultimatum to
the incoming administration over in Ukraine, announce the investigation of
Biden or Vice President Pence will not attend Zelenky’s inauguration. And
here is what Parnas says he told an aide of Zelinsky in May.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PARNAS: I told him that if he doesn’t – the announcement was the key at
that time because of the inauguration that Pence would not show up, nobody
would show up to his inauguration.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Unless he announced an investigation into Joe
Biden, no U.S. officials, and particularly Vice President Mike Pence would
not come to the –
PARNAS: Particularly Mike Pence.
MADDOW: I believe it was the following day that, in fact, Vice President
Pence’s visit to the inauguration was cancelled?
PARNAS: It was after my phone call.
Obviously, when Pence cancels, they get a word that Pence is not coming. So
now they realize that what I was telling was true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, in his interview last night, Parnas so implicated Attorney
General Bill Barr among others, and his documents show he communicated
regularly with numerous Trump allies, revealing how expansive this scheme
Amid all of this, Senator Susan Collins of Maine today issued her clearest
statement yet about possible witness testimony. She said that once
arguments have been made, quote, it is likely that I would support a motion
to call witnesses at this point in the trial. That’s a big development.
I am joined right now by Peter Baker, New York Times White House
Correspondent, Betsy Woodruff, of course – Betsy Woodruff Swan, Politics
Reporter for The Daily Beast, and Frank Figliuzzi, former Assistant
Director for Counterintelligence at the FBI.
Peter, I want you first here. The solemnity of today’s occasion was very
much a ritual, it’s almost as a sacrament today, watching it the way the
chief justice was sworn in and how he sworn in all those senators, all
hundreds of them, practically, I think they were all there with their hands
in the air all taking the oath of office. And yet there is a question
whether form is going to lead to function. Are we going to get truth? Are
we going to get witnesses and documents to fill the vacuum of information
so we can have a real trial?
PETER BAKER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: Yes, I think
that’s a great question. Think you’re right. The solemnity of the moment
was striking, it was powerful. And the arrival of the chief justice and the
swearing of that oath really brought home to everybody who was there in the
chamber including all 100 senators that this is a serious moment and a
serious issue under our Constitution. That doesn’t mean suddenly they are
not going to be political or partisan. It doesn’t mean that they have
suddenly given up the point of view they brought onto the floor. They may
swear to do impartial justice, but the truth is all 100 are partial in some
fashion or another. It’s a political process after all.
And I think that you’re right, that Senator Collins saying she wants to
hear witness is important. We’ll see if there are enough other Republicans
that agree with that. Lev Parnas’ comments and revelations underscore the
gaps in the story we know so far. You can say the maybe House Democrats
should have spent more time on the investigation, you can say maybe they
were thwarted by the president of the United States who tried to block
them. But either way, there are questions we haven’t gotten answered yet.
And the biggest question is whether the Senate will try to answer those.
MATTHEWS: Well, this may be too metaphysical, but I’m going to throw it at
you, Peter. What do you mean by impartial when everybody is voting party
line? And I’m thinking of the recount vote in 2000 where the same ballot
would come up and one person would say, oh, that’s Gore on there, and the
other person is saying, no, that’s Bush on there, What does impartial mean
when it’s purely partisan?
BAKER: Yes It’s a funny thing to – it’s funny to ask these senators to be
impartial when, of course, they’re not. I mean, look, the history of this
is these are not regular jurors, they’re not excluded because of bias. For
instance, in the Andrew Johnson trial, his son-in-law was a senator who
voted to acquit his father-in-law. Another senator would have become
president had Andrew Johnson been convicted because there was no vice
president at that time, and he would have been the next line in that order
of succession at that time.
In the Clinton trial, you had Senator Schumer who had already voted on the
articles of impeachment as a member of the House, then he got elected to
the Senate and then cast judgment on the very same articles he had already
Tim Hutchinson was a member of the Senate, even though his brother was a
House manager at the same time.
So there is no such thing as a conflict of interest that gets these
senators off the hook, if you will. They are partial. They do come at this
with a political perspective and other biases.
But I think taking the oath does remind them at least for one day, anyway,
they have an obligation to go beyond their party to at least consider and
think about what they’re up to and what’s at stake here. And what’s at
stake here is the very nature of our constitutional system, accountability,
separation of powers and, you know, how we run our democracy.
MATTHEWS: Thank you so much, Peter, despite you were here last time, so
it’s good to have your perspective. You were here during the Clinton
Anyway, despite growing evidence, in the contrary, President Trump
repeatedly insisted today that he doesn’t know Lev Parnas. He doesn’t know
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: What is your response to Lev Parnas who says that your efforts in
Ukraine were all about 2020? You just wanted Joe Biden out? What’s your
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don’t know him. I
don’t know Parnas other than I guess they had pictures taken, which I do
with thousands of people.
I don’t know him at all. I don’t know what he’s about. I don’t know where
he comes from. I know nothing about him.
But I can tell you this –
REPORTER: He described a situation that was more than just taking pictures,
Mr. President. He says that –
TRUMP: I don’t know him. I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken to him.
REPORTER: He was with Giuliani while you were on the phone with Giuliani,
and he said that –
TRUMP: I don’t believe I’ve ever spoken to him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, responding to the president, Parnas’ lawyer tweeted a video
showing Parnas right there with the president of the United States. There
he is, very recognizable, those two gentleman. There is also an email
showing that the president gave his former lawyer the okay to work for
While Trump’s current attorney, Jay Sekulow, wrote John Dowd saying, the
president consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas.
Betsy, this stuff goes back to the old stuff of the communists, the
hearings back in the early ’50s. I mean, you don’t say you don’t know
somebody as your defense when it’s clear you do know them. You can argue
about whether you’re a communist or not or (INAUDIBLE) or not, but don’t
say you don’t know somebody because that’s how you get perjury charges
against. That’s how you end up in prison.
Why is this president completely denying somebody he clearly does know?
What’s the point?
BETSY WOODRUFF SWAN, POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE DAILY BEAST”: It’s certainly
unusual. I spoke with Lev Parnas this afternoon here in Manhattan. And we
specifically talked about the fact that President Trump has now said that
he doesn’t know him, as well as other sort of issues that informed Parnas’
confidence about – frankly about going public, including your first on
this network, on Maddow’s show.
Parnas told me that some contributing factors to the reason that he now is
speaking out publicly, one, of course, was the fact that the president said
he doesn’t know him. Parnas is emphatic that that’s a lie.
But in addition to that, he also told me that the silence from some of his
former friends was really galvanizing for him. Over the course of the
entire Ukraine situation, he worked really closely with Rudy Giuliani as
well as with a husband/wife legal team in Washington, Joe DiGenova and
And Parnas said that when he got out of jail after he was arrested on
campaign finance charges, he realized that none of those folks had spoken
out in his defense. He told me these are three lawyers who are often very
confident, engaging to defend controversial people on T.V. They’re not
media shy. But in his case, Parnas said they were radio silent. He said it
felt like his family had abandoned him. And that’s part of the reason that
he’s gone public now.
And, of course, his going public is a key moment in this entire impeachment
saga because it’s really amped up the pressure on Senate Republicans to
potentially vote in favor of having witnesses in the impeachment trial.
Whether or not that trial has witnesses, of course, is a definitive issue
in how this impeachment process moves forward.
MATTHEWS: Did he take any heat last night after being on Rachel’s show?
SWAN: He hasn’t heard from them. It’s been radio silence. Giuliani has made
a few comments to reporters. Giuliani reportedly has said that he feels bad
for Parnas and that he thinks he’s a liar. But that’s a dramatic change
from someone who was working with this person multiple days a week, who was
traveling with him, who was in constant contact with him. All of a sudden,
as soon as somebody gets arrested, to turn around and say, oh, well, he got
charged with a crime, he must be a liar.
If anything, criminal defense attorneys are the people who are supposed to
be the least likely to assume that just because the Justice Department
makes an allegation means it’s true. But in this case, that’s part of the
reason, as Lev described it to me, that he felt so surprised by what he
characterized as real abandonment.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Frank Figliuzzi. Frank, it does remind me of Valachi
opening up the whole map of the mob of the Cosa Nostra. But here’s a guy
coming in as part of the crime. He wasn’t a bystander. He’s not somebody’s
friend. He’s somebody’s relative. He was the guy doing the business. He was
the translator in Russian for Rudy Giuliani and all this dirty business.
How powerful is this evidence that he’s brought forward in document and
also in public testament on television now?
FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, FBI:
Yes. Parnas has become a poster boy for why the Senate needs to consider
witnesses in the impeachment trial. He is Exhibit A for the argument that
not only do we need witnesses, but we need the Senate to consider new
evidence as it developed during the trial. Americans know what a trial
looks like, they know what a real trial looks like. And a real trial is
when you have witnesses and you have corroboration.
So it’s not only Parnas that needs to testify, but it’s all the people that
he’s pointing us toward. He’s talking about Pence. He’s talking about
Giuliani. He’s talking about Barr. We need to hear from him and let the
American people and the Senate consider his objectivity and his
credibility. If he’s not credible, so be it.
But, Chris, I can’t remember 25 years in the FBI when I had to put an Eagle
Scout on the stand as the lead witness in a criminal trial. You don’t get -
- it doesn’t work that way. These are exactly the people you need to hear
from, because, as you said, he was in the thick of it.
MATTHEWS: Well, to your point, here is what Parnas said when asked if Vice
President Pence knew why his trip to Ukraine for Zelensky’s inauguration
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Do you know if Vice President Pence was aware that that was the
quid pro quo, that that was the trade and that that, in fact, is why is
inaugural visit was called off?
PARNAS: I’m going to use a famous quote by Mr. Sondland, everybody was in
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, according to Parnas, you just saw there, everybody,
including Attorney General Bill Barr.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Did Rudy Giuliani tell you he had spoken to the attorney general
specifically about Ukraine?
PARNAS: Not only Rudy Giuliani. I mean, Victoria and Joe, they were all
best friends. I mean, Barr was – Attorney General Barr was basically on
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, last night a spokesperson for Attorney General Barr called
Parnas’ allegation 100 percent false.
But let me go back to Peter on this. Peter, it bothers me when public
officials play the role of flax when you have one of these cases. I mean, I
don’t know why somebody working in the Justice Department has the job of
putting out something as nonsensical, he doesn’t know this guy, he was not
in the loop when you clearly know they’re just covering for somebody in not
quite a criminal case but certainly a political scandal, public officials
doing this for their living.
BAKER: Right, yes. I think the preview, what we’ve seen, unfortunately, in
the last few years is that there is no sense of the Justice Department
being a neutral actor anymore. The president himself thinks the Justice
Department ought to be his function on his behalf basically as much as the
country’s. He’s, you know, repeatedly crossed over lines, other presidents
saw there. And so I think that the problem is there are credibility issues
when you have a Justice Department statement at this point.
MATTHEWS: How do we know so much more than the senators are intended to
know? The way this Senate so-called trial is being cooked up, put together,
confected, whatever the word, they’re not going to be able to hear from
live witnesses. They’re not going to hear documents from documents, which
are appearing in other papers right now. They’re not technically – like
they’ve got blinders on them, these senators. They’re not supposed to know
what we know, what we are talking about now. This is the craziest trial in
Everybody in the country knows what’s going on. Everybody else is making a
judgment based upon all the information available. But senators are told,
no, you can’t have that. Mitch McConnell says no new witnesses, no new
documents. This is just going to be an argument, like a British-style
debate, just rhetoric back and forth. That’s what Mitch seems to want, a
BAKER: Yes. I mean, look, these senators won’t be recused. It’s not like
they won’t be watching Rachel Maddow’s show or seeing articles in the
newspaper. But you’re right, if you don’t end up having – not just having
witnesses, it’s having witnesses who have apparently a testimony to give,
evidence to give that we haven’t heard. John Bolton, of course, comes to
mind, the president’s former national security adviser. And we’ve heard
from other witnesses that he objected in the Ukraine pressure campaign as a
drug deal and thought that Rudy Giuliani was kind of a hand grenade that
was going to blow up.
Well, we haven’t heard from him either on a public interview much less in a
House hearing or a Senate trial what he talked about with the president of
the United States about this. Did the president order him to suspend the
aid to ukraine explicitly in order to get information about the Democrats
that will be harmful or did he not? We don’t know. And to have John Bolton
offer to testify and then have nobody take him up on that, it means that
you’re leaving money on the table, in effect, you’re leaving information on
the intentionally undiscovered and we’ll have to wait until he puts his
book out, I suppose. But that will be long after the trial is over.
MATTHEWS: Well, if we don’t get this testimony and we don’t get these
documents, this is going to be, what they say in New England (ph), is a
Fosse (ph). This is going to be a Fosse (ph).
Peter Baker, thank you, Betsy Woodruff Swan and Frank Figliuzzi.
Coming up, the Democrat’s case for impeachment may have just gotten a
little stronger. The independent Government Accountability Office just
confirmed today that the Trump administration broke the law by withholding
critical military aid from Ukraine. Does this crank up the pressure any
higher for those Republican senators to allow for witnesses to be called?
After all, we’re getting new evidence that matters.
One of the jurors, by the way, on the Democratic side joins us next.
Plus, will the GOP put loyalty to Trump above the oath of impartiality? You
tell me. What can be coming down with a showdown of rules and witnesses?
What’s it going to look like, this big fight in the next couple of days?
And what kind of role will Chief Justice John Roberts play in the trial? I
hope he plays the good judge and gets the facts out.
We’ve got a lot to get to tonight. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The impeachment is a big hoax. It’s become a laughingstock all over
the world. There was nothing done wrong.
The two articles that were sent are not even serious. And, by the way,
they’re not a crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: There is nothing done wrong. Did you hear that from the
president? Nothing was done wrong.
And that was President Trump just last week on what he expected from the
Senate impeachment trial, apparently nothing.
The president and his Republican allies have repeatedly argued that he did
not break the law. Here it comes.
But, today, a nonpartisan government watchdog says the Trump administration
broke the law in freezing millions of dollars of U.S. aid, military aid, to
In a decision released today, the Government Accountability Office, a
nonpartisan agency that reports to the Congress, said: “Faithful execution
of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy
priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law”
In a statement, the Office of Budget – an Office of Budget – Management
and Budget spokesperson said: “We disagree with GAO’s opinion. OMB uses its
apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent” –
catch this – “consistent with the president’s priorities and with the
In other words, it’s up to the president where money gets spent.
I’m joined right now by Maryland Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, who
requested the GAO look into the withholding of aid the last month.
Thank you, Senator, for doing this.
First of all, what is the implication, as you see it, of the fact that the
president broke the law here?
SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Well, it’s good to be with you.
This is a big deal, because, as you know, the Government Accountability
Office is a nonpartisan independent entity. And they came down with a
blockbuster decision, beyond a doubt that the president’s administration
violated the law when they withheld money from Ukraine.
That was an illegal act. And we also know from public evidence that it was
President Trump himself who gave the order to the agencies to withhold
So, he ordered his agencies to commit an illegal act as part of his overall
scheme with respect to Ukraine. So this is a very, very big deal.
It’s not Democrats saying it. It’s not Republican saying it. It’s an
independent, nonpartisan entity saying it.
MATTHEWS: In the Senate, where you’re going to be a juror – in fact, you
have been sworn in as a juror.
VAN HOLLEN: Yes.
MATTHEWS: Will it have an impact on your Republican colleagues, the fact
that the law has been broken by the president in the act that he has been
VAN HOLLEN: Well, it should.
I mean, you would think that law-breaking is something that Republican
senators would agree was a bad thing. And this was a law broken as part of
the president’s overall abuse of power.
It just showed he was willing to violate the law here and there in order to
accomplish his overall goal of trying to pressure the government of Ukraine
to involve itself in the election for him.
So, I don’t know. But the first question is the one you have been talking
about. The first test for our Republican colleagues before we get to the
final verdict, which I will wait to see all the evidence before rendering a
final decision – the first test is whether they will support the calling
of fact witnesses and relevant documents, because you cannot have a fair
trial without that.
MATTHEWS: Well, today, Senate minority leader, Democratic Leader Chuck
Schumer of New York, said the GAO decision and the revelations from Lev
Parnas strengthens Democrats’ push for witnesses.
In his interview with my colleague Rachel Maddow, Parnas said former
National Security Adviser John Bolton would be a key witness.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PARNAS: Zelensky was supposed to make another announcement, and that didn’t
happen. And that’s when Bolton, Secretary Bolton, went over there. And I
think he has a lot to say.
I know Mr. Bolton was definitely involved in the loop because of the firing
of Marie Yovanovitch, also his interactions with Rudy Giuliani. They
started butting heads.
MADDOW: But you believe he knows what the administration was pressuring
Ukraine to do?
PARNAS: A hundred percent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You know, what would it be like to have him testifying to you
guys in the Senate, you jurors, I mean, actually a regular – I mean, he
seems real, this guy.
VAN HOLLEN: No, he does.
I got to tell you, Chris, I watched that whole interview with Rachel last
night, and my jaw just dropped. I went, oh, my God.
And after seeing that, it would be a gross dereliction of their
constitutional duty for Republicans to say, we can’t call any additional
It’s not unusual at a trial to have new information and new evidence and
documents that are important to come forward.
And the House managers will have to decide whether they want to call him as
one of the witnesses.
VAN HOLLEN: But the bigger test is going to be Republican senators.
Bolton, Mulvaney – President Trump back on December 3 said he wanted Mick
Mulvaney to testify at this trial.
VAN HOLLEN: All of a sudden, his lawyers are telling him, no, that’s way
too dangerous, if Mick Mulvaney is sworn in under penalty of perjury.
MATTHEWS: It reminds me of Valachi opening up the books on the mob, and you
don’t want to hear from the guy? He’s like in this witness protection. You
don’t want to talk to the guy?
Anyway, today, senators took an oath to render impartial justice as jurors
in the Senate trial.
Last night, Texas Senator Ted Cruz argued this impeachment is a partisan
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX): I don’t know if there’s going to be 51 senators to
bring witnesses in or not. I think there’s plenty already to reject these
ridiculous articles of impeachment.
But if they are going to bring witnesses in, we’re not going to do what the
House did of a one-sided show trial. And I think it should be at a bare
minimum one for one.
So, if the prosecution brings a witness, if they bring John Bolton, then
President Trump can bring a witness. He can bring in Hunter Biden.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: What do you think of this? Because I heard about this from a
senator the other night, a Democratic senator, the word out that Mitch may
– Mitch McConnell may figure out, OK, you guys want witnesses? I will give
you four or five, two of mine, two of yours.
Well, I went the Bidens. You – I will give you Mick Mulvaney and John
Suppose you’re confronted with a choice like that. Would you take the whole
VAN HOLLEN: Well, look, we all know that Joe Biden, that whole request is a
red herring when it comes to who had knowledge about President Trump’s
decision with respect to withholding aid to the Ukraine.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but he was the president’s target.
VAN HOLLEN: So, yes, but what’s at stake here in the articles of
impeachment, obviously, is his abuse of power.
MATTHEWS: I know.
VAN HOLLEN: But, look, if Mitch McConnell and Republicans want to call Joe
Biden, we will have to cross that bridge when we come to it.
VAN HOLLEN: But there is a big difference between relevant fact witnesses,
which is what we have asked for, Mick Mulvaney, John Bolton, and these
MATTHEWS: If you sat on the other side of the aisle, wouldn’t you want to
say – wouldn’t you want to ask Senator Biden, just to give him a chance to
clear himself, did you ever talk to your son about taking that contract
with Burisma? Did you have anything to do with him doing it? Did you ever
tell him not to do it?
Did you ever get a – did he ever call you and ask you to do a favor for
it? These seem to be relevant questions, germane.
VAN HOLLEN: Look, it’s all – it’s a total sideshow and distraction, as you
MATTHEWS: But it’s not entirely, because this whole thing is the Republican
attempt to smear the Bidens.
You have to say, were they fairly going after them or unfairly going after
them? I think the president was unfair, because he was saying, all I want
is an announcement from the president of Ukraine we’re investigating the
He didn’t want the truth.
VAN HOLLEN: Right.
So – right. What the president wanted was to withhold taxpayer dollars
that Ukraine needed, right, in order to try to get them to interfere –
interfere on his behalf.
Look, with respect to witnesses, if Republicans get to the point where
they’re willing to get relevant fact witnesses and documents, then let’s
have a conversation.
MATTHEWS: Yes, OK.
VAN HOLLEN: McConnell has been the one who is stonewalling.
And right now, they have been conspiring with the president to rig the
trial. They shouldn’t be doing that.
MATTHEWS: I agree.
VAN HOLLEN: That is a violation of the oath they took today.
MATTHEWS: Is he going to get away with it?
VAN HOLLEN: Who’s that?
MATTHEWS: Mitch, who always seems to get away with it.
VAN HOLLEN: The issue – the issue is not going to be how Mitch votes. It’s
going to be how some of the other Republican senators vote.
VAN HOLLEN: And their public will hold them accountable in a lot of these
And they will be asked, why did you vote to conspire with the president,
rig the trial, and deny the American people a fair hearing with all the
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, I’m betting on – I’m hoping for Lamar Alexander. I’m
hoping for Murkowski. I’m hoping for Mitt. I think you got three maybe
there, and maybe Collins now, as of today. We will get to Collins later on
VAN HOLLEN: We will watch them very closely, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you. You know these guys better than I do.
Thank you. Chris Van Hollen, my senator.
VAN HOLLEN: Thank you. Great to be here.
MATTHEWS: Up next: The stage is set for what shaping up to be a real fight
over witnesses and documents in the next couple days.
How many, if any, Republican senators will put their oath of impartiality
ahead of their party loyalty, actually their loyalty to Donald Trump?
You’re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
With the impeachment trial now under way, really, all eyes are on a quintet
of Republicans, five of them who could determine whether the Senate hears
new witnesses or not.
It’s a topic that’s become increasingly relevant with John Bolton’s
willingness to testify and that trove of documents just released from Lev
about – Lev Parnas.
And, this evening, Maine’s Republican Senator Susan Collins came the
closest she’s ever been to saying she should vote yes for new witnesses.
In a statement put out this evening, Collins said: “While I need to hear
the case argued and the questions answered, I tend to believe having
additional information would be helpful. It is likely I would support a
motion to call witnesses at this point in the trial, just as I did in
That would be the Clinton trial.
Collins said she decided to clarify her statement due to – quote – “a lot
of mischaracterization and misunderstanding about my position.”
Well, this came after she faced backlash yesterday for questioning why the
Parnas evidence was released so late by the House, even after reporters
told her that the information had only been recently made available by the
courts, who have been holding it.
This puts Collins much closer on his – to the position of Utah Senator
Mitt Romney, who has explicitly said that he’d likely want to hear from
Bolton and vote for that, in fact.
That’s two out of the four Republican votes Democrats need to call
witnesses. They got 47 Democrats. They need 51 altogether, four Republicans
Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander, who’s retiring, have
said they’re open to hearing from witnesses.
There’s also speculation about vulnerable Republican Senator Cory Gardner,
who’s consistently refused to answer questions about where he stands.
Mitch McConnell has made it clear that he’d rather not extend the trial by
having witnesses at all. But that’s not what he argued during Clinton’s
Wait until you catch the disconnect here between the old Mitch and the new
Mitch. I like the old Mitch.
That’s up next.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Many Senate Republicans have made it clear that they want this trial to be
as short as possible. That’s not what Mitch McConnell said, by the way,
back in 1999.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): There have been 15 impeachments in the history
of this country. Two of them were cut short by resignations. In the other
13 impeachments, they were witnesses. It’s not unusual to have a witness in
It’s certainly not unusual to have a witness in an impeachment trial.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, I’m joined right now Michael Steele, former RNC chair, and
Nadeam Elshami, former chief of staff to Nancy Pelosi and former spokesman
– well, you have done everything – for Dick Durbin.
He wanted to know all the nitty-gritty of Bill Clinton’s malfeasance. He
wanted to get more. Let’s talk more about Monica. He liked lots of
witnesses, lots of information. Not this time.
NADEAM ELSHAMI, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO NANCY PELOSI: Yes, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: He wants a shorty.
ELSHAMI: He wants to control the process. He wants to put this under the
rug and move on.
Look, his – this is not going to change until his senators, those four or
five senators that you have talked about, come to him and say, Senator,
would need this for our reelection.
And they’re starting to feel the heat. And maybe Senator Alexander, because
MATTHEWS: He wants it because he’s got values.
ELSHAMI: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.
But you have senators like Paul, Senator Paul, threatening…
MATTHEWS: Why is – what’s your hunch about why Rand Paul, who’s a real
independent – he’s a libertarian – why has he become the hatchet man for
the president in making sure he’s going to punish every Republican who
votes for witnesses?
MICHAEL STEELE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, this is kind of makeup for
swinging out there on the whole war thing with Iran.
STEELE: So, this is – now we’re swinging it back the other way. So I’m
going to stand and defend the president on this idea of not having
witnesses come to the table, whereas, last week, he was out there slamming
the president for his ventures into Iran.
So, folks should see the politics here for what it is. None of this is
being taken seriously by Republicans at this point. I think, to your point,
the sooner we get it done, the better. It is sort of huddling together to
protect the clan, as it were, keep it – protect everyone inside the room.
And so it’s going to be important if a Murkowski or a Collins, a Lamar
Alexander comes and says that this is bigger than what you think it is, and
we need to have the witnesses. We need it for our own protection at home.
STEELE: But I think we need it for the country as well.
MATTHEWS: Well, I want to be fair.
I think a couple of the guys who’ve come forward, men in these cases, Mitt
Romney and Lamar, I think, is going to…
MATTHEWS: He’s not just worried about – I know, it’s a partisan comment,
you just think they’re only going to save their butts.
Some actually have consciences, I think Mitt Romney flirts with greatness,
he doesn’t get there. He likes to get around the edge. Like in this case, I
think he will push for witnesses. Will he push other members to get the
four we need or three we might need?
NADEAM ELSHAMI, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO REP. NANCY PELOSI: Well, I don’t
know. It’s too early to tell right now. But I think what the senators are
grappling with is an oath to President Trump or an oath to the
Constitution. I think that’s –
MATTHEWS: I agree with you. Well said. This morning, a CNN reporter got an
unexpected response from Arizona Republican Senator Martha McSally when he
dared to ask her about whether we need new evidence, here it goes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Should the Senate consider new evidence as part of the
SEN. MARTHA MCSALLY (R-AZ): Man, you’re a liberal hack. I’m not talking to
REPORTER: You’re not going to comment?
MCSALLY: You’re a liberal hack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Ha! Well, shortly after that, McSally doubled down on her
comments about the so-called liberal hack, tweeting at the reporter that
you are a liberal hack. McSally may have been hoping to rile up Trump’s
base there because she’s out there fundraising off the comments she made to
The Trump campaign war room tweeted, three cheers for Martha McSally,
donate now. What do you make of this?
ELSHAMI: One word, re-election. She is worried –
MATTHEWS: She’s never been elected, though.
ELSHAMI: But she’s worried.
MATTHEWS: She’s appointed.
ELSHAMI: Yes, appointed, that’s right. So she is worried. She is worried
about 2020. So, she’s trying exactly that.
MATTHEWS: Do you think she picked a fight with that reporter? That was a
reasonable question. He wasn’t snarky.
ELSHAMI: No, absolutely not.
STEELE: I think it’s certainly behavior unbecoming for sure. Look, you are
an elected official, more importantly, are you a United States senator.
And so, what this says to me is that senators like McSally feel that they
need to show their behinds like Donald Trump does every day and get down in
the ugly and think that that’s going to be, somehow cool and keeps their
base tight to them.
STEELE: But your reelection is in trouble – rather, your election is in
trouble. She knows it. So, this is going to fund raise off it. It’s going
to – you know, there is applause back in very small corners, but the
broader electorate she has to face this November when her opponent is
playing this videotape over and over again and saying, is this really what
we want in Washington?
STEELE: What we want in Washington?
These folks aren’t thinking about what Trump does to them longer term. And
they’re all right in the moment. They’re feeling all the juices.
MATTHEWS: Arizona is not a wild state. There are a lot of retirees there.
There are people worried about fiscal responsibilities, things that maybe
liberals don’t care about, but they don’t like this kind of behavior.
ELSHAMI: Absolutely not. But this is a historical moment in our country. I
agree with Michael. You know, if you are a United States senator, you have
to be thinking what you are saying, not just to your voters, but, you know,
50 years from now what are they going to say about you?
MATTHEWS: I don’t think your old boss, Nancy Pelosi, would say, I’m not
talking to you right wing hack. She’d probably say I’m not talking.
Anyway, Michael Steele, thank you, and Nadeam Elshami.
Up next, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will play an essential
role, or will he? Is he just going to be there as a potted plant or is he
going to be a good judge? Clarifying just what he could, what we should and
should not expect from Roberts next on HARDBALL.
We’re going to figure this guy out, a little prediction, will he be the big
star of this or not?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: Judges and justices are servants
of the law, not the other way around. Judges are life umpires. Umpires
don’t make the rules. They apply them. The role of an umpire and a judge is
critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules but it is a limited
role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Earlier today, Chief Justice John Roberts stepped into his role as a
presiding officer. There he is, of the impeachment trial of President
Trump. In that capacity, according to the Senate’s rules and impeachment,
they shall direct all the forms of proceedings while the Senate is sitting
for the purpose of trying an impeachment.
And during the trial, according to those same rules, he will have the power
to, quote, rule on all questions of everyday, including but not limited to
questions of relevancy and materiality and redundancy of evidence and
incidental questions, unless some member asks to overrule a justice. In a
few days, we’ll see what kind of justice, what kind of judge the chief
justice will choose to be.
We are joined by Caroline Fredrickson, former president of the American
Constitutional Society, and Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for “USA
So, there are questions of law, precedent, constitutional and, of course,
political here. In light, as a student of John Roberts, the chief justice,
how much do you think he will play the traditional role of judge? Will he
say, if Adam Schiff, the chief manager says, I’d like to bring in evidence
now some documents involving Mr. Lev Parnas that had just been released to
the public, I’d like bring them into evidence, I’d like to have Mr. Parnas
come into this hearing. What does the chief justice have the liberty to
decide at that point? He says I want to bring a witness in right now, to
get this information to the jurors?
CAROLINE FREDRICKSON, FORMER PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL SOCIETY:
Well, the state rules make it clear that he has the power to admit
evidence. He can actually issue subpoena. He has an extraordinary amount of
power under the way the proceedings are constructed.
The Senate can overrule him. But I think if that were to happen, well,
actually, I don’t think it’s going to happen, because I think you’ll have
senators like Susan Collins and Cory Gardner and the others think about
what that will mean for their constituents if they vote to overrule this
chief justice on a vote so important as to whether to admit evidence that’s
MATTHEWS: So he can make the first call?
FREDRICKSON: I think it would be surprising if he chose to exert those
powers. I think he would say, let’s have a vote on the Senate on whether to
allow these witnesses to come in. Up to him, right, he has the power to do
that. But he follows the example that Justice Rehnquist, that Chief Justice
Rehnquist did in the Clinton impeachment, he would see his role as
minimalist, not maximalist.
FREDRICKSON: He could certainly do that, but I think that would be such a
punt in this case. In the Clinton impeachment, remember, there was a
general agreement among the managers of how to proceed. In this case, we
clearly don’t have that. We have all sorts of new evidence that’s come
He has also been very outspoken in defending the independence of the
judiciary, including his annual report again this year, talking about how
important it is that judges provide equal justice under law. I mean, what
could be a better example of him doing than issuing a ruling on evidence
that has come forward that is clearly relevant and incredibly material to
the exact issue being considered by the Senate.
PAGE: So, we’ll see if he chooses to do that. I’ll tell you, there’s one
thing that I think the Founders had in mind when they made the chief
justice the person who would preside over impeachment trial, and that was
to underscore kind of the importance, the solemnity of this – of this
exercise, and I think that actually happened today.
You know, we’ve had this heated ferocious debate over impeachment that
makes it seem like a sporting event, but when we saw those articles brought
over from the House and the Senate, and we saw the chief justice come in
and swear in the senators, I think it took on a bigger moment than it’s had
the last few weeks.
FREDRICKSON: And that’s really why I think we should expect the chief
justice, we should certainly hope that the chief justice lives up to the
oath that he also took, which is to do impartial justice.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you a big question, it’s not a legal question as to
what’s constitutional. It has to do with philosophy. I think a real
conservative, it’s not a right winger, or reactionary, a true conservative,
maybe in the British sense, is someone who wants to keep the society
together, because that’s the chief goal of a conservative. Keep things
together, don’t let society come in to division, or civil wars or
fragmentation, or massive bitterness, try to bring the country and hold it
What’s more unifying in this country, a trial that continues to get some
evidence, or they slam the door with no evidence coming in and no
witnesses? Is that going to keep the country united?
PAGE: I think, no. I mean, I think this is likely to divide the country no
matter what, but if the Senate proceeds in a way that doesn’t allow this
new evidence that has come forward since the House vote last month, I think
there will be forever be questions –
PAGE: – about what they could have learned had they allow the witnesses.
FREDRICKSON: Well, and I think we’ve already had Mitch McConnell announce
that the proceedings already rigged. That he’s already in the thank for –
MATTHEWS: That he’s rigging them.
FREDRICKSON: That he’s rigging them. Right. And, you know, again, this is
why I go back to – you know, certainly my hope, but a demand I think of
the chief justice that he actually make sure that it’s not a rigged
MATTHEWS: If he makes the first call and says, OK, let’s bring in – Mr.
Schiff, bring in your first witness, we’re not going to follow the rules
set by Mitch McConnell which says, we’re going to wait to all the
discussion, all the going back and forth, after all that’s done, arguments,
then we’ll decide whether to bring witnesses in. But suppose the judge
says, no, we’re not going to wait from the end, we’re going to have
witnesses from the beginning, f you want to overrule me, go ahead, is that
FREDRICKSON: Well, absolutely. I mean, he has plenary – I think the rule
set out, he has really plenary authority to determine the direction of the
proceedings, and whether or not to admit evidence, whether or not to have
witnesses, whether he can subpoena himself. It’s sort of implies in the way
those rules are written.
So, certainly, that could be very appropriate. I mean, there is so much new
evidence that what a sham it will be if that’s not heard.
MATTHEWS: Yes, here’s a political question, a journalist question. How do
you close the door when the floodgates are already open? This Parnas thing
last night with Rachel Maddow, I mean, imagine that happens on the Senate
floor. I mean, it’s incredible what would have been the reaction.
PAGE: You know, even if the Senate decides to not have witnesses, we’re
going to continue to hear from these people, from Lev Parnas, from John
Bolton. The story is – more of this story is going to come out. It’s
coming out in a remarkable way now that builds the case that Democrats
started to build and comes up with more and more evidence about the
president’s own involvement.
MATTHEWS: I think nobody can deny that there’s a cabal here, to squeeze the
new president of Ukraine for some kind of dirt on Joe Biden. The only
question is, you have to answer yourself, is that impeachable? Because the
facts are plenary, they’re all over the place.
Thank you, Caroline Fredrickson. Thank you, Susan, as always. I’ll see you
soon. I see Susan all the time. She’s great.
Up next, what did Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders actually show us when
they thought we couldn’t hear them less, Wednesday, two nights ago? It’s
always better what they say when they don’t think you’re listening.
You’re watching HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Politicians are people first. The best of them have pride in
their words, pride in what is said about them by people they respect.
Two nights ago, we saw Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders try to downplay
their dispute over what he told her or didn’t tell her two years ago, that
a woman can’t beat Donald Trump in 2020.
Well, that might have been the end of it. It wasn’t.
Following the debate, with the stage microphones killed, we heard through
another mic her personal indignation and Bernie Sanders’ retort in kind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think you called me
a liar on national TV.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What?
WARREN: I think you called me a liar on national TV.
SANDERS: No, let’s not do it right now. You want to have that discussion,
we’ll have that discussion.
SANDERS: You called me a liar. You told me – all right, let’s not do it
TOM STEYER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don’t want to get in the middle.
I just want to say hi, Bernie.
SANDERS: Yes, good, OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, the point is, neither chose to make this a scene in their
two-hour debate on television. Both seemed well to make that claim and move
on, but that was politics. Both thought they had bigger fish to fry on
television. Besides, Iowa voters are celebrated to penalizing presidential
candidates they see going negative.
But as the great senator from New York, Daniel Patrick Moynihan once put
it, we are we are entitled to our opinions, but not to our own facts. And
this fight between Senators Warren and Sanders is not over candidate’s
opinion, it’s over facts. Senator Warren told people that Senator Sanders
said a woman can’t be elected in 2020.
On Tuesday night, before a huge debate audience, he denied ever saying any
such a thing. It strikes me based upon record (ph) between the two
afterward that she didn’t expect this, didn’t expert her colleague to make
such a sharp denial, to the point of her words, of calling her a liar on
national television. Well, I suspect the reason is she believes Senator
Sanders said what she said he did, and he would when forced to confront it
face-to-face confess to it. Senator Sanders said, all this is being driven
by, as he put it Wednesday night, some of the media. Well, that’s not what
it looked like or said it like when both thought the mic was off.
That’s HARDBALL for now. Thanks for being with us.
“ALL IN WITH CHRIS HAYES” starts right now.
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prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
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